URAHARA is the meta show Re:Creators wishes it could have been. The series has been getting better every week and is probably the underrated gem of the season.
Be wary of spoilers for URAHARA (up to episode 7)
I know – I also was skeptical of URAHARA initially. At first glance, the title is just another sloppy children’s show with a generic plot. However, I eventually (and rather belatedly) realized that the show has the potential to be introspective and self-referential due to its unique set-up.
In an anime series where creativity is established as being the key to almost everything, the conclusions and the realizations the girls reach in URAHARA could theoretically resonate with viewers since creativity holds similar power in the real world.
We just don’t have to deal with alien bandits who steal human culture, fortunately.
And as of episode 7, URAHARA has exceeded my revised expectations and then some.
The big reveal was coming and expected to a degree; Misa and Ebifuruya were clearly up to no good starting from the very first episode. But still, the fact that our main characters were turning into Scoopers due to ingesting the dessert-like Scoopers remains hits the audience hard as their unity as a group unravels like frayed twine. Towards the end of the episode, the rain changes the vibrant alleys of Urahara into dull, muted shadows. Rito can only stare in horror as Mari and Kotoko seemingly accept that they will transform into Scoopers and mindlessly tear into the nebulous treats responsible for their metamorphosis like they were wild beasts eating regurgitated waste off the floor.
Wow. What happened to the children’s story? What happened to Mari and Kotoko?
Well, I believe the two girls largely fell prey to several layers of mindgames and manipulation (courtesy of the Scoopers and Ebifuruya). Furthermore, their own personalities, which were initially presented as sparkling and bright like their store wares, are finally revealed to be fragile and then shatter like glass, allowing their disorientated minds to surrender to insecurities and stop resisting.
But at the center of all this is the concept of creativity.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that creativity is what defines human culture. Creativity created and erected monuments. Creativity is what allows novels to be written and anime series to be produced. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks creativity is a negative trait.
It’s a bit less clear-cut when you try to define the limits of creativity, however. Kotoko’s uncertain question, which is the catalyst that ends up tearing the group apart and leaving the girls vulnerable, did exactly that since she asked, “Scoopers steal culture, don’t they? Maybe we’ve been doing the same thing [via imitation and mimicry].” Unable to accept that the implication that her sense of creativity is fake and copied and scared of how she could completely lose her creativity by transforming into a Scooper, Mari storms out of Park (but not before Kotoko reveals that she was considering Ebifuruya’s sweet yet poisonous words – more on that later).
It’s important to consider how Mari and Rito interpret Kotoko’s statement very differently. For Mari, being accused of imitating others’ fashion sense and dance moves is an insult that implies she is simply not creative. Her mentality reflects the contemporary beliefs regarding visual arts, which places a heavy emphasis on the importance of originality and uniqueness. Rito, however, isn’t as quick to become offended at Kotoko’s words and states that imitating others isn’t necessarily bad. Rito’s mindset aligns with that of Renaissance artists. For instance, a young apprentice is encouraged to seek out and copy the styles and forms of the very best artists according to an excerpt from Cennino Cennini’s The Artist’s Handbook, which was published in 1400 CE. Cennini confidently claims that “through dedicated and repetitive imitation and emulation of works of art that inspire, one will eventually be skilled enough to reveal his own style” (Gardener 431). Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that Rito is an artist since she shares that sort of mentality.
The dissimilarities don’t stop there. Although the girls were all feeling scared about how they might be losing the ability to be creative, Rito attempts to encourage Mari and Kotoko by saying they can work together to reclaim creativity. In response, however, Mari lashes out at Rito and claims Rito is lucky to be able to draw by herself. Perhaps Mari is bitter that she isn’t as talented as Rito when it comes to drawing so she requires Rito’s assistance when she sketches out her clothing brands – the meaning of Mari’s statement is kept vague. Be that as it may, this heated exchange reveals that the value of teamwork and the value of individuality differs for Rito, Mari, and even Kotoko.
For Rito, staying with her friends is even more important than being individually talented or creative according to the events in this episode and her conversation with Sayumin. Despite being afraid that they’re all too different, Rito receives some encouragement from Sayumin who claims that they are collectively like sakuramochi and that they come together to become harmonious and delicious despite how each component is so radically different.
Meanwhile, Mari’s aspirations to become popular and famous as an idol and actress crash down on her as her follower count takes a straight nosedive from 246,000 to 0 following her outburst. A flashback in which she received praise and recognition from imitating other dancers’ moves (namely that of Ariana Grande’s), along with her reciting fashion trends from magazines in earlier flashbacks, reveals that Mari has likely been copying others her entire life. Remaining heavily in denial, craving both praise and attention, trying to cling onto her individualistic dream, and refusing to accept all artists borrow from others to a degree, Mari falls into despair.
While it would appear that Kotoko also prioritizes staying together over her own goals since she wanders around Urahara trying to find the others, Kotoko happens to hold private motives that disregard everyone else’s feelings. Tired of being mocked for being weird or strange, Kotoko dreams of a sancutary where she can be herself and with Mari and Rito. The thing is, including her friends seems more like an afterthought considering she admits to enjoy being praised by the other two. In other words, the other two are implied to be kept around just to bolster her self-esteem. Furthermore, the poisoned honey Ebifuruya whispered into her conscious involved the three of them being together forever as if trapped in an eternal Spring Break, which Kotoko finds enticing. Before Mari stormed out of Park, Kotoko admits that if they do lose their creativity, then she would like to just do endless research with Rito and Mari by her side. In short, she just focuses on her own desires and doesn’t try to understand how others feel, just like what Mari accused Kotoko of doing before she left Park.
Mari herself falls prey to Ebifuruya’s sweet words, however, after he implies that strong Scoopers can modify their faces and become cute to everyone. For an aspiring idol and actress, that sort of ability is very powerful and tempting. Furthermore, it’s implied that the Scoopers have infiltrated the town considering how Mari’s followers were dropping despite the lack of internet; how the crowds were rather nebulous, hateful, and were dyed an unnatural shade of purple; and how said crowds cheered on Mari as she defeated Scoopers, which convinces Mari to continue fighting Scoopers in order to receive the fame she desperately craved.
The only problem is that the girls need to ingest the remains of Scoopers to continue squaring off against said opponents. The fact that the Scoopers’ remains seems to have momentarily caused Rito to become brainwashed until she caught a glimpse of Sayumin’s sakuramochi also seems to imply that this was sealed the deal for Mari and Kotoko. Out of duty and reflex, the three girls fought against the Scoopers, which automatically leave their dessert remains upon being defeated, which tempts the girls on top of the other layers of manipulation and stress they’re dealing with.
And thus the stage is set. Perhaps the Scoopers’ subtle influences were what pushed Mari and Kotoko off the edge. But the viewer will be amiss to discredit how the girls clashed in terms of philosophy and what it means to be creative, which left the girls all alone and vulnerable to outside factors (save Rito, who ran into Sayumin). And don’t forget that this entire situation started because of the power of creativity. One would be foolish to dismiss its power.
Gardener’s Art Through the Ages: A Western Perspective, Vol., 2, 13th Ed., by Fred Kleiner, Cenage Learning, Copyright 2009, Pg 431